Kelowna cops facing backlog in charge process, diminished partner resources

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Kelowna cops facing backlog in charge process, diminished partner resources
Kelowna RCMP announced that the majority of homicides within the Kelowna over the last two years have seen mental health play a significant role – Mar 2, 2022

The number of criminal acts in Kelowna appears to be on the rise but the people behind them aren’t being charged fast enough to improve community safety, Kelowna’s top cop says.

During a Monday council meeting, Coun. Luke Stack asked Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance about how smooth the case flow between the RCMP and the BC Prosecution Service, the branch that deals with police files once an arrest has been made, has been in recent months.

“I think what’s really important here to remember is in 2021, as we looked at that data, we had (1,084) files forwarded to (the BC Prosecution) Service…. Seventy-eight per cent of our charges that were forwarded to Crown counsel have not been approved yet,” Triance said.

That is 844 files awaiting a decision from the BC Prosecution Services for charge approval. Once that happens, only a small portion of those are going to the “justice system,” Triance said, describing it as a large holding pattern.

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RCMP unveils new 4-year strategic plan for policing in Kelowna

“That delay in justice and the long impact that (it) has, that is the prosecution service without the resources, and the court service without the time to be able to deal with all of these cases that would need to go before the court. There’s a funnel effect and we are added in terms of a bottleneck.”

The charges awaiting action are largely property crime-related and while they may not raise as much attention as a high-profile murder investigation, Triance told council crimes of this kind have a trickle-down effect.

“You’re going to have offenders who are at large in the community during a period of time where they’re waiting for court and we can assume, from patterns of behaviour that we’ve seen with persistent and prolific offenders, they are committing more crime while at large in the community,” she said.

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“So our conversation becomes around that consequence piece for justice.”

That backlog, she said, works against RCMP trying to hold somebody accountable for what they’re doing.

“When you arrest somebody on Friday with stolen firearms, stolen property, and perhaps some illicit substances and by Monday, they’re back out on the streets and able to commit a crime, it becomes next to impossible to stay on top of that significant calls for service,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Extended interview with Supt. Kara Triance'
Extended interview with Supt. Kara Triance

“We also remember that our population is growing. So the more people and the more offenders that we see in our community, the more we need to be able to stay on top of that. Being able to put people in jail and keep them in jail would allow us some time to do that work.”

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The BC Prosecution Service has slightly different figures on what they call charge assessment duration.

In an emailed statement, they said one of the Key Performance Indicators tracked by the BCPS measures is how many days it takes Crown Counsel to complete charge assessment, from the date a RCC is received to the date Crown Counsel makes a charge decision.

In the Annual Report for 2020/2021, a year earlier than the timeframe Triance was referencing,  the prosecution service reported that 40 per cent of assessments were completed the day the file was received, 46 per cent within three days, 57 per cent within seven days, 68 per cent within 15 days and 79 per cent were assessed within 30 days of the receipt of a police file.

“These figures are for the entire province so there will be minor regional variations but we are confident these numbers are accurate,” reads the statement.

“Recent figures for the Kelowna area indicate that approximately 74 per cent of files are assessed within 30 days of receipt by the BCPS. Cases that require more time are often the most complex, involving lengthy investigations with significant volumes of investigative materials. Each case is different and complex cases will require more time to review the results of these investigations which can result in thousands of pages of disclosure.”

While the process may be under scrutiny, there’s also the growing number of mental health-related calls.

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Triance told Kelowna city council Monday that in 2021 there were almost 3,100 calls for service with a mental health component and in 2020 there were 2,800.

While the seriousness of these increasingly common calls can vary, Triance noted that three of the last four murder investigations in 2021 involved a mental health component.

With medical services being increasingly important, she said there are a couple of programs she’s been working on with the health authority that could help ensure better community support. One is having medical services available at the cellblock level, and the next is dealing with street-level issues alongside clinicians.

Neither one is coming along seamlessly, with staff shortages continually highlighted as an issue, though Interior Health is doing what it can with its existing resources.

“Only 33 per cent of … the 3,100 calls that we attended in 2021 had a clinician with them so we still have police officers attending calls for service with a mental health component that don’t have a clinician with them,” she said.

“If we talk about an investment and resources, I think there’s multiple different areas where we continue to work together to communicate really well about the best way to deliver those services in our communities.”

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